Peanut butter is a staple of the American diet. However, is peanut butter healthy? Peanut butter can be found everywhere from school and hospital cafeterias to WIC checks. So, it must be healthy, right? Before you grab your spoon and reach for the jar, consider some of the facts about this American kitchen staple.
Peanut butter is nice and salty, smooth, and yummy—but despite how palatable it is, it isn’t Paleo. Peanuts aren’t really part of the nut family. They are legumes, and therefore not permitted for a strict Paleo diet. However, peanut butter nutrition is important.
Despite that, they are a fairly old food, peanuts were a very important part of the diet for Aztecs and other native people in Central and South America. Spanish explorers brought them home to Europe, and they soon spread into Africa, where they are still used in a lot of traditional dishes today.
Before the agricultural revolution, however, peanuts were rarely eaten raw. Without cooking peanuts, they are very difficult to digest.
So, are peanuts nutritionally sound? Yes and no.
More importantly, is peanut butter healthy?
- Peanuts are a great source of protein and healthy fat.One-half cup packs a full 18 grams of protein, and 36 grams of fat, half of which is “good” monounsaturated fat. That good monounsaturated fat really helps advance your general nutrition.
- They contain other important nutrients like biotin, folate, niacin and vitamin E. They also contain coenzyme Q10, which is very important for a healthy heart.
- Peanuts have a lot of fiber, with each half cup containing 6 grams of the stuff. Fiber is important for keeping bowel movements regular, and it supports the growth of stomach bacteria that keep you healthy.
- Seniors who eat niacin-rich foods, including peanuts, have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive degeneration than those who don’t by up to 70 percent! The high amount of antioxidants in peanut butter and other niacin-rich foods are believed to be responsible for this.
- Studies show that frequent peanut consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20 percent. The risk of colon cancer is also reduced.
Indeed, peanut butter’s nutritional resume is pretty impressive.
- Peanuts are vulnerable to fungal attacks. One of these fungi produces a toxin called aflatoxin, which is 20 times more carcinogenic than DDT.
Cooking and roasting peanuts reduces aflatoxin levels by about 90 percent, however, and government regulations don’t allow any of our foods to contain more than 20 parts per billion. At this level, it’s safe for humans to eat. Some Paleo foods, including pecans and pistachios, can also contain aflatoxin.
What about peanut butter nutrition?
Surprisingly, according to Consumer Reports, peanut butters found in health food stores actually contained MORE aflatoxin than regular big box brand names.
- Allergic reactions to peanuts are common, and the number of children with life threatening peanut allergies is increasing with time. Peanuts are one of 8 major allergens. Anyone with any allergy symptoms related to peanuts should avoid them entirely.
- Peanuts contain lectins called agglutinins. Lectins are proteins that bind with sugar, so that molecules stick together and avoid activating the immune system. They are not broken down by digestion, and enter the bloodstream in less than four hours.
Lectins can cause damage to your stomach lining, and may trigger immune system reactions that cause fatigue and joint pain. To reduce the negative impact of lectins, it’s important to ferment or cook foods that contain them.
- Oxalates are another anti-nutrient commonly found in legumes and grains. Concentrated levels can crystallize, eventually damaging the gallbladder or kidneys. They also reduce the absorption of key minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium.
- While peanuts contain plenty of healthy fat, especially oleic acid, the remainder of peanut butter’s fat content is mostly omega-6 fats. Most of us already have way too much of omega-6 fat, with our average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 being as high as 20:1. By contrast, our ancestors’ consumption ratio was 2:1 or 3:1.
We don’t need peanuts to get oleic acid, as it’s already readily available in Paleo-friendly foods such as avocados and olive oil. These foods have much lower levels of omega-6 fats, making them far superior choices.
- It’s easy binging on peanuts, and eating way too many. Way too many peanuts are a recipe for weight gain. Some people eat nuts as a snack too often, and eat too many at a time. Be careful. If you continuously snack, especially on dense foods like peanuts, you are at risk of gaining weight.
A recent study confirmed that those who have frequent snacks and have a high calorie diet have increased fat stores in their livers, and also around their waists. If you are trying to lose weight, snacking on peanuts is not a good way to reach your weight loss goals.
For some, such as those with autoimmune disorders, poor immune function or frequent digestive upset, it’s best that they don’t eat any peanuts.
If you have an autoimmune disorder.
For others, eating peanuts or peanut butter in moderation may be appropriate, though we always recommend against using peanut oil to cook with. If you do enjoy peanuts and choose to indulge, the best products to choose are made from organic, roasted peanuts. As usual, avoid any kind of food made with sugar, hydrogenated oils, and other unnecessary additives.
Again, peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes, and therefore, they are not Paleo.
As always, your first priority with a Paleo diet should be to eliminate grains, vegetable oils including peanut oil, sugars, and processed foods, and replacing them with quality pasture-raised meats, a lot of vegetables, and wild-caught fish. With a healthy Paleo diet, plenty of sleep, and daily exercise, indulging in peanut butter occasionally is acceptable, if you enjoy it. It’s more about you than the delicious treat. You’ll survive.
Of course, replacing peanut butter with a healthier Paleo substitute would be an even better idea. There are many other nut butters which are made from actual nuts and acceptable Paleo foods, including almond, cashew, or macadamia nut butter, as well as other non-nut choices such as sunflower or coconut butter.